Dear ITT Ideologist: Cliff Notes on American Democracy

Pete Karman

Dear ITT Ideologist,

I am a young Egyptian revolutionary researching the best examples of democracy for my newly liberated nation. Some of us favor the populist Venezuelan model, others like the staid social democracy of Finland. But what about the United States? Your products, particularly tear gas, are well known in our country, but American politics are a mystery. Is it true that your president prostrates himself before the Prophet? And do you really have endless electoral campaigns? Please elucidate these matters.

Rashid Ali, Cairo

Dear Mr. Ali, 

First, let me congratulate you and your people for having the courage to shoo Mu. Now to the subject. Like many Americans, you appear misinformed about our president. He does not bow to the east but to the right. 

You were, however, on to something when you mentioned products in your query about our politics. Here in America we have come to view politics as profit, elections as enterprise and politicians as products. Consider that our legislative elections in November produced a turnover of roughly $5 billion, most of it flowing to media and advertising companies. And we expect even greater returns henceforth since our courts permitted foreign investors, including you Egyptians, to finance our candidates.

Thus we are becoming a model of multinational democracy. Such an ambitious endeavor has long since outgrown the constraints of a mere campaign season. So, like Christmas Tree Shops, elections have become a year-round enterprise. You could say that whereas Trotsky advocated permanent revolution, we have initiated the ceaseless stump. 

To goose efficiency and profits, we limit the number of parties and issues to what we know will sell. We play down matters of import in favor of banalities, inanities and, for spice, scandals and smears. These are entertaining to the voters without unduly disrupting business as usual.

Particularly curious to students of statecraft is our preference for politicians who revile the government they seek to lead. Imagine selecting infidels to guide the faithful and you will gain an insight, though hardly a useful one, into our politics. 

All in all, I think it good advice not to take advice from Washington, given also that it advised Mubarak into oblivion. If you are adventurous about democracy, invite some Venezuelans to share their experiences with you. If you are more finicky, follow up with the Finns. All you’ve got to do way down there in Egypt land is let your people go, and they’ll figure something out.

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Pete Karman began working in journalism in 1957 at the awful New York Daily Mirror, where he wrote the first review of Bob Dylan for a New York paper. He lost that job after illegally traveling to Cuba (the rag failed shortly after he got the boot). Karman has reported and edited for various trade and trade union blats and worked as a copywriter. He was happy being a flack for Air France, but not as happy as being an on-and-off In These Times editor and contributor since 1977.
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